autumn catch-up

Oh, another month of living, pressed down and running over — that’s the only way to measure these incredibly full days. Days full of beauty and adventure, or the refining rhythm of routine, read alouds we love and workbook pages that must be done, church things, work things, school things, family things… So much, and most of it with a baby in arms, which is why my thoughts tend to stay jumbled in my head instead of getting straightened out into neat and tidy sentences here.

Tonight, while I laid in bed with Enid next to me, amusing herself with the crinkly package of baby wipes, I looked through pictures and was a bit astounded to realize how long ago the end of September already feels. And so, a quick photo / memory dump:


Daily work with this eager kindergartener.


Thursday’s nature journaling, packed up and moved to the park.


A Sunday afternoon with the whole family, soaking in September sunshine.


Farewell to this old friend, and even more, to my favorite neighbors EVER.


Paint and journals abandoned and Mama left just sitting in silence. I may or may not have sat there for quite awhile.


Getting rounder, cuter, and more smiley all the time.


A crazy day that managed to get collected and calmed and tied up with the comforts of Autumn.


Another year of CFA begins!

We made it to John Brown’s House, near Lake Placid. We are history buffs and history buffs in the making and studying the Underground Railroad is all the more real with trips like this.

Our day doubled as an autumn holiday in the mountains.


Besides the stunning leaves, the array of mushrooms caught Beatrice’s eye.


Passing through and noticing three friends playing piano together in the evening, and realizing, somehow in a very profound way, that this moment is their real life.


And another moment that stopped me in my tracks: turning around to see my brand new baby playing on her tummy with toys. *sigh*

That’s all for now. A son is in need of tick removal. Life never stops, does it?

first week of school!

A whole first week of school with my precious kiddos is already done. I meant to take a photo of them all on Monday, but you know. We got busy.

We had such a good week. Kids so excited and whole-hearted, diligent and focused, and eager to take on a new year of chores and routines and growth. Not every first week has been so free-from-drama, my own included, so I know to be thankful for this unique gift. Ha!

Day One: Ridiculously hot and humid. Our outside time was spent in the sprinkler. Another “unique” start to a North Country school year!

Multi-tasking: Jameson is so good with Enid, and I found them here. She’s getting a head start on Harriet Tubman’s life.

Mornings: Starting early outdoors, before temps reached into the 90s. And we even needed blankets! September is so strange.

Ordered chaos: What homeschooling looks like in real life. This is the silent version; now imagine a boy practicing piano in the other room, another boy listening to a math lecture, and all three of these little girls talking to me. I had to laugh.

Day Two: We brought our lunch to the park, did our history reading by the river, and spent our play hour on slides and swings. Enid and I opted for quiet shade and observation.

Breakfast Duty: Jameson has assumed full responsibility for the children’s breakfasts. He has a rotating menu he’s learned to bake or prepare, and by 8am he has it ready, table set, a classical musical selection playing, and is calling the family to the table. This is the routine I’ve been implementing for several years, but somehow putting him in charge means the kids suddenly LOVE the music. So besides the wonderful benefits of having him grow in this responsibility, I also have the makes-my-heart-sing benefit of hearing kids singing Beethoven piano sonata themes randomly throughout the day. And Fiona singing the theme from Rhapsody in Blue? MADE MY WEEK.

Circle Time: The boys take turns holding Enid during the first portion, so I can lead the family in some worship. She is well loved.

Change it up: Thursday we did a mid-morning grocery run, followed by lunch and history reading in another park. And I finally remembered to take a picture of the crew. Happy Fourth Day of School! (Is that a thing?)

Science meets Art: We’re trying to be diligent about nature journaling this semester. I’m feeling pretty good about a full week of staying on track, culminating in our Thursday afternoon painting session. Making Charlotte Mason proud.

Outdoors on Friday: Before our homeschool group begins their Friday group program in October, I like to spend that fifth day of the week exploring the outdoors. We live in such a beautiful area! Last week was spent near the St Lawrence River with friends; yesterday we followed a trail along the Raquette with one of my sisters. The temps broke and yesterday was a perfect low 70s. What a perfect day for a day of integrated learning: everything from trying to find “north” the way fugitive slaves did while in the woods and spotting the prettiest varieties of wild mushrooms to being patient with younger siblings and handling an auntie’s dog.

a new start

The sun is rising. (Gloriously.) It’s Monday morning. The beginning of September.

All sorts of new happening here.

I don’t feel quite so new. I feel a bit more… old and tired and kind of wanting to go back to bed. But I’m watching this sunrise, this incredible thing that is still thrilling after thousands and thousands and thousands of times, and remember that each morning truly can be full of new because of the Spirit that lives in me.

Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

You can go ahead and put it on your calendar for this morning: “Be renewed by the Spirit of Christ.”

*****

Also new today: the official start of our school year. Fiona in kindergarten, joining the ranks of enrolled students. Jameson beginning 7th. I am definitely starting to feel less like I’m teaching one class with a bit of age variety and more like a one room schoolhouse.

We are doing some tried and true things that just seem to work for us. (An hour of Circle Time right after breakfast and morning chores. Going outside even if it’s -10. Reading out loud.) I am trying some new things. (More independence for the boys. A few points of structure in a more fluid day.) We’ll see how this all actually works once it gets off of my scribbled notes and fancier charts and into real life.

However all of those details go, what will work is being together, and learning, and growing in love for one another and for the Lord.

I was going to pray for our year last night and ask for His help, and suddenly felt so silly. Of course He’s going to help! So instead of requests, I just began to articulate thanksgiving in advance. There are some checks you can cash ahead of time. I can already know that He is going to do great things in our lives as we seek Him first this year.

So we will do:

Teaching Textbooks for the boys
BJU Math for the girls

BJU Spelling for Beatrice, William, and Jameson
BJU English for Beatrice, William, and Jameson
Explode the Code for Fiona
Cursive through Pictures for the boys
Getty-Dubay Italics for the girls
Typing for boys
Rotating the above throughout the week

Nature study for all, including reading, observing, and painting our findings.

A Literature-based study on the Underground Railroad for all. (And of course this is where I get most excited; who doesn’t love reading, writing, watching good films, and letting your heart be expanded as you grow in your understanding of people, good and bad?)

Piano, programming, letter-writing, tons of outdoor time, baking, personal and family devotions… We will have no trouble filling our days.

Those are the details and the tools I have at the ready. But the best part of this homeschool journey is being continually reminded by the Holy Spirit of the big picture, the overarching task of disciple-making. That vision is what my heart needs to be tied to, not these particular tools. So, while I’m very excited about the beautiful nature books in a basket and the crisp pages of the workbooks and how after Huck Finn is done I want to do a bunch of Shakespeare in our Circle Time, I’m not tied to those tools. (Remind me of this regularly.) Any one of them needs to be set aside happily should I find it is not helping to accomplish The Grand Plan.

Because ultimately, I am shaping hearts and investing truth and growing people, armed and equipped for their purpose here on earth.

*****

And so I am in over my head already, as anyone can see, on this fresh morning on Monday in September at the beginning of a school year. I don’t know what I’m doing, really, and the things I do know tell me that I am not equal to the task in and of myself.

But my eyes jump back a few verses and land on this:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. (2 Cor 4)

So happy Monday, happy School Year, happy New Morning. May you find yourself renewed and bursting with the treasure of His Spirit.

first things first

I really do love the homeschooling life. In fact, I wish I had about three more of me to go around, so one of me could dedicate all day every day to exciting and fun learning pursuits.

Combine that natural enjoyment with a heavy dose of regular “Am I doing enough? Is this working?” doubts and fears, and it’s the perfect recipe for curriculum-discontent and grass-is-greener issues.

This article today reminded me of how good and simplifying it is when the right things stay in focus.

See, we aren’t school teachers. We aren’t really even homeschooling moms. *gasp* We are mothers and we are wives, and we are raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Probably, most likely, this is why most of us are homeschooling — we feel it best serves the vision of discipleship that we have. But that word there — serve — is so important. The math and the language, the field trips and the journaling, the classical approach and the unschooling persuasion: they all need to serve this much higher, much broader task of teaching our children about the love of God for them and of how they might live lives of love toward Him.

I loved how, in that article, the mom would realize after reflection that the true goals and hopes for a new year often had little to do with curriculum and much more to do with character growth and personal development. There may be reading struggles to address, or the realization that this year’s choices just really aren’t suited to your personal style — but our eyes are also lifted to higher goals, and we can hear creative ideas spoken by the Holy Spirit as we jot down things like, “connect with each kid,” “see growth in personal responsibility for Johnny”, “more orderly start to the day,” etc. I think it can be easy to feel the lack in areas such as those, but get caught up in the shiny new math curriculum because isn’t it easier to admire glossy pages and hope for change than it sometimes is to stare face to face with our lack as home managers or our children’s sin issues?

We can’t allow the mission to get compromised by forgotten priorities.

I also love discovering what does work for our family, as this mom says. Sometimes I get a little itch to add something new, and sometimes that itch is worth listening to — but once I’ve evaluated what’s worked and how the past year has gone, and where we’re lacking, “new” often looks less like a whole new expensive curriculum and more like a new art project to tackle, a commitment to doing the science experiments, purposing to cook together more often, or taking a walk somewhere new a few times this next year. (And maybe for you and your family, other amazingly fun and creative things the Holy Spirit lays on your heart.)

There may be real learning struggles to address and research, or tears over academics that you really think could be avoided with a new approach — and how wonderful to have the tools we need so readily available to us, and certainly, equipping each child is part of what we’re called to do, with diligence and resourcefulness. But each spring, each October (when the new ideas turn out to not be a shiny and fun as I’d been hoping), each January (when the return after Christmas can sometimes feel a bit dull), I remember: evaluating how we’re doing is important, but it has to be done in light of the high call this homeschooling thing is serving. And suddenly, each time, I see clearly again and feel vision return for the what and how and why of it all.

Jesus first.

Family and character next.

And the rest can take a number.

packed up, put away, and looking forward: january.

There are a very few houses still wearing their Christmas colors, warm colored lights greeting me in the dark mornings as I walk. I’m sure their owners are cringing at how behind they are, and when they will ever find the time, but I wish they could see me smile as I walk by — wistful already as I recall the days of December, their warmth and memories, how they sped by far too quickly, how I wish we could just do that one more time before moving onto the rest of the year.

December passed in its own unique way, as it seems to do each year — this mother and home manager whose heart is full of ideas and plans, who learns every single year to hold such things loosely as real life topples day dreams, only to find that the actual gifts of a Good Father are perfect for us.

Piano performances, choir practices, movie nights, early to bed nights, colds and upset tummies, cookies that taste like the memories of a hundred Christmases past, school winding down and play winding up, first snow, quiet days at home instead of the usual bustle of play dates and get togethers (because viruses), gifts purchased and wrapped and rejoiced over, choral performances that made this mama cry, books read aloud, and suddenly the blessed days of rejoicing and celebration and tradition are upon us, and we revel in it all.

Then it’s over, and we happily let the days slip by as we embrace vacation mode, staying long in PJs, playing with new toys for hours while Mama tries to create some semblance of order. The end of the year purge, making room for new things, getting rid of the broken and unused.

Cold snap. Temps plunging way, way below zero, keeping children inside when frostbite seems to truly threaten. Boys shoveling fast and furiously, coming inside with eyes full of hot chocolate hopes. (Yes, of course yes.) The few days in the 20s and 30s feel like a heat wave, and the play time goes on for hours as they shovel their way through the backyard, creating their very own North Country Roxaboxen.

House projects. Laundry room upheaval, and us short a bathroom, but who cares when there’s long term gain? Slowly we watch it get put back together, and finally the weekend comes when we can vacuum and mop and organize and move in and smile as the washing machine hums its familiar hum.

At last, that means, school.

Fresh starts and new energy escaped me this year, I’ll confess. Oh, those long and often intense days of schooling sounded just like that: long and intense. All I could remember was Cecily up to no good and loose ends left undone every evening and a general feeling of “are we having fun yet?” True story: this happens. It happens to me. Deep in my soul, tentacles of discouragement wrap and bind and pull me down.

But hand to the plow, shoulder to the grindstone, and most of all, heart set on promises: He has never failed me yet.

New routine thought through, fresh pencils, and without any more to-do (because no excuses; that’s what I told myself) we started. To the tune of an unending snowstorm and boys shoveling half the day, and I had to laugh at my carefully laid plans.

You know what?

It was peaceful and fun and synergistic and good.

He has never failed me yet.

So, off we go: into a new year, on a path winding forward, heading towards the rising sun.

new baby.

“Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb His generous legacy?”

And in the midst of school starting and birthday celebrating, weather cooling and leaves falling, we found out a new baby is coming.

four sisters
Me with my three also-expecting sisters

Some of the first joys have been the other children’s responses, especially Beatrice. She is so very excited, and also so very thoughtful toward me. Another joy is the provision of a new midwife to our area.

Most of all, looking around at the five faces who gather at our table for each meal (and who all follow me around all day long!) and trying to fathom how blessed we are to have these gifts in our lives. Five people God has used me to usher into the world, and now another soul to love and be blessed by.


A short walk last month

Of course the front end brings with it the immediate challenge to give and be stretched, as I balance upset stomach with need for food NOW, and the non-stop waves of exhaustion that bring my days to a screeching halt, sometimes only a few hours in. Life is pared down to most needful (which ends up still being a lot these days, I’m finding) and so school isn’t fun and flashy. Just basic. Diligence is the name of the game. Autumn is slipping by and I’m not out there, walking down leaf-strewn trails and seeking new adventure with my brood each afternoon. Silly, but that’s hard for me, and an opportunity to say firmly to my soul, “Another year. The kids are fine just playing in the yard, and you’re saying YES to a whole new person.” It’s worth the loss of a few tromps in the woods. More than worth it.


Naptime with Cecily

So here we are, already 1/4 of the way through a season of expectation that will culminate in the arrival of Baby #6 next May. I am so, so thankful.



Mornings are mostly still “mine”, with quiet time, walk, and exercise. Sometimes it all goes downhill from there, but I so enjoy the start of the day!


Pretty little girls!


Afternoon snack and read aloud — a [mostly] daily highlight.


Ten weeks. That’s a pro-level bump. Ha!